I have the ultimate plan for avoiding writing burnout. It may even help.
Did I oversell that? I think I might have oversold it. Okay, this may not be the ultimate plan for anyone to avoid burnout as a writer, but it’s my plan for me for right now. Who knows, it may even help.
In case you just arrived here from Pluto (no longer a planet, but still a lovely holiday spot), I should point out the world for the past few years has been rough.
That’s made writing hard. Some days it’s made everything hard.
Early in the pandemic, I tried to do too much with my writing life and I burned out. I didn’t write for two years. I thought maybe it was just me, but when I poked my nose online I saw people everywhere talking about burnout.
I have friends! They may not know I exist, but they’re my friends regardless. Maybe you’re one of them.
You might have noticed I’ve been away a while. Here are some things that happened during that time, rated by whether they are awesome or rubbish.
I love reading blog posts that give advice. If I’m already taking the advice I feel smug I’m doing things right, and if I’m not I feel like a daring rebel.
Either way, win!
I once read some advice that if you take a break from blogging and then return you shouldn’t draw attention to the fact you’ve been away. Just continue posting as you were, and most people won’t notice you were gone.
Uh, I think in this case that ship has not only sailed, it’s been eaten by a kraken.
So yes, I’ve been away, and the elephants have carried the world on through the void, as elephants are wont to do.
Here are a few other things that happened, which I know about because they happened to me, I read about them (everything you read online is true, remember?), or I made them up.
I probably didn’t make them up.
1. I missed talking with so many cool writer friends online. Rating: one wretched unicorn sobbing a pool of tears
2. More people bought Colleen Hoover’s books than bought the Bible. Rating: awesome if you’re her, rubbish if you suffer from serious writer envy
Writing a novel involves a lot more than just drafting and editing. Here I enumerate my writing activities and try to figure out why I never have time for them all.
It struck me recently that I have all these writing-related activities that I don’t do as often as I’d like or have stopped doing entirely. When I did them I thought they were valuable, but now it’s hard to find time.
Which is crazy because I’m literally working 20 hours a week from my living room chair (by the fire because it’s cold).
I should have time to do everything I want, so why don’t I?
In an effort to (begin to) answer this question, I thought I’d enumerate what these writing-related activities are. Then maybe I’ll discover some of them aren’t important. Or that I’m really lazy.
The world of writing has changed since I started reading.
Writers used to be mystical beings who existed in some alternative reality of glamour and pixie dust, reachable only with low probability via a handwritten letter sent to the writer’s agent. Goat sacrifices followed as you waited and prayed for a response, and, if the pagan gods were pleased with your grovelling, some months later you received a scrawled missive from your literary hero. You framed it and treasured it for life. (Note this is all based on hearsay. I never wrote to my idols because, as I might have mentioned, I’m rather shy.)
Today, this world has been overturned. The winding forest trails that used to be the only way to reach an author have been replaced with four-lane highways. Many authors lounge in open-air coffee shops on the roadside, where any fan with a social media account can attempt to strike up a conversation with them.
So readers meet the authors of the books they love, and authors make life-long fans. What’s wrong with that, you might ask?
Nothing at all. Unless you’re like me.
The wonder of a book is that it transports you to another world. The physical world vanishes and you live through the trials and triumphs of the characters.
You’re not reading a book, you’re living a life. And so anything that reminds you that you are in fact reading a book is a grease stain on the reading experience.
This is why I don’t like chapter titles. Life isn’t split into chapters. When I arrive at the office, a heading doesn’t flash up saying, “Chapter 3: In which Alecia types and sometimes drinks tea”. When I get home, I’m not bowled over by the text “Chapter 5: In which His Royal Fluffiness laments the emptiness of his food bowl”.
Chapter titles are like flashing neon signs that say “You’re reading a book!”
You’re probably wondering what this has to do with meeting authors. Hold your unicorns, I’m getting there.
Have you ever tried to read with someone peering over your shoulder? Every minute you get, “What’s happening now? What do you think of it? Is it good?”
Now imagine it’s the author asking. When they say “What do you think of it?” this is no idle question. It’s like a parent asking what you think of his new baby. No matter how much or how little you care, you know he cares a great deal. This is his baby and he wants you to love it.
Talk about pressure.
I don’t want to feel obliged to enjoy something as I read it, or guilty if I don’t. I don’t want someone looking over my shoulder as I read. Did you see that clever sentence? Wasn’t it marvelous?
Go away and let me read in peace!
But it’s not just the author’s psychic peeping over my shoulder. It’s the fact he exists at all.
The author’s existence is a reminder that this is just a book, and it lived in someone else’s mind before it lived in mine.
I don’t want to know what the author’s face looks like. I don’t want to know that she prefers cats over dogs, grew up on the West Coast (of NZ or the US, take your pick), and her favourite tea is Earl Grey. The more I know about her, the more I’m aware she exists as I read her book. Did you like that plot twist? Clever, wasn’t it?
I don’t want to think about how the story I’m reading grew from late nights, industrial-strength coffee, and profuse swearing.
I prefer to think of stories as forming wild in drops of dew.
They grow untouched by human hands into their perfectly shaped final forms, then are set free to carry delight and wonder across the world.
Don’t forget you can join one of my mailing lists for frequent or less frequent reminders to read my new posts, all 100% dolphin friendly. Plus you’ll be the first to hear when I release new stories. (It happens sometimes, I swear it.)
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